By Lindsay Peyton

Every few weeks, Chuck Winston takes the two-hour drive to Lufkin from his home in Ben Wheeler, southeast of Canton. The 85-year old member of Colfax UMC pulls an empty trailer behind his truck, which he will load with about 800 wooden crosses of various sizes. Painted on each are the words “Jesus is Lord.”

Winston unloads the crosses on large wooden racks on his property. He will deliver them to different locations including Tyler, Ben Wheeler, Edom, and cities in Van Zandt County. A sign on the displays reads, “Crosses are free. Please don’t take more than three.”

The crosses are provided by the Vic Bass Cross Ministry, which helps people connect to Jesus across the nation. Winston explained that Vic Bass, a retired Baptist minister, has built and distributed crosses for years.

Winston first picked one up himself about five years ago in Canton. He was so impressed after learning of the mission that he called Bass to ask how he could make a donation.

During their conversation, Bass asked if Winston would be interested in distributing the crosses to his neighborhood. “Why not?” Winston replied.

“I went down to Lufkin and picked up a truck full,” Winston recalled. “And I have been doing it ever since.”

Since 2018, Winston has delivered 57,851 crosses. “I enjoy doing it,” he said. “I think it’s a worthwhile ministry.”

“Chuck is an amazing person,” Rev. Erin Muckleroy, his pastor at Colfax UMC, said. “We work closely together to serve the Colfax community.”

Winston serves as the church’s council chair, the pastor added. She said that Winston, while always willing to help, is not one to seek the limelight.

“He is happy to serve faithfully behind the scenes,” she said. “He is humble in nature, unlikely to brag about the ways he gives to others.”

One of the ways Winston serves is by volunteering at UT Health Tyler. He has been going since he retired as a computer technician around 2007, heading to the hospital twice a week for about half a day.

The hospital estimates that Winston has contributed more than 4,000 volunteer hours. “I’m retired, and it gets me out of the house,” he laughed.

He works in the pain management department, rolling patients out to the main entrance after they are discharged. He also strips the beds and remakes them with clean linens.

Volunteering at the hospital actually saved this servant’s heart.

While there, in 2016, he learned about a program the hospital was offering – heart health screenings for $25. The test alerted him to the need for a follow up the next year, which then led to  bypass surgery.

“They had to open me all up,” Winston recalled. “They rerouted one of my major arteries.”

Heart screening for Chuck

Volunteering helped him again last summer, when he signed up for UT Health’s MyHeart First, which provides seven screenings in one session to detect heart disease.

Winston was surprised by the results – his right carotid artery had a 90 to 95 percent blockage. Dr. Frank Navetta, who handled his previous bypass surgery, could not believe that he had none of the telltale symptoms like dizziness or fatigue.

Dr. Navetta referred Chuck to a vascular doctor, who determined that the blockage could not be fixed with a stent. Instead, a carotid artery surgery was scheduled to remove plaque deposits. “I got a roto-rooter job,” Winston said.

He said that the experience has proven the importance of heart screenings, regardless of the presence of symptoms. He hopes his story will inspire others to make their heart health a top priority.

Winston is grateful for the programs that the hospital provides, which make it easy and affordable to sign up for screenings. “If I hadn’t been volunteering, I probably wouldn’t have known about it,” he said. Those screenings ended up saving his life and kept his heart strong to continue doing what he loves –  whether that is volunteering at the hospital, helping out at church, delivering crosses or spending time with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “I’m 100 percent back,” Winston said.